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Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 7, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (1A) below,").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 and 5. They deal with the anxiety being expressed from all sides of this Chamber and outside with regard to the need for the electorate who will be voting in the referendum on 7th May to know as fully as possible the details of the proposals on which their views will be sought.

I do not seek to suggest that the Government will not stick to their assurances, but I understand that the White Paper setting out the detail of their proposals will be published towards the end of March, six weeks before the referendum. The Minister nods in confirmation. Ideally, the referendum would take place after a Bill dealing with the substantive proposals had been through the scrutiny of both Houses of Parliament. We on these Benches do not wish to delay the referendum, but we believe that to have a referendum without having as much detail as possible is second best.

My Amendment No. 5 proposes a compromise, although that may not appear to be the case. I suggest that the Bill proposed by the Secretary of State--I put it in those terms because I do not want it to be argued that it could be any old Bill; it is a Government Bill--should be published at least six weeks before the date of the referendum or, more accurately, that the referendum must be six weeks after the date of that publication. I have chosen the period of six weeks to fit in with the arrangements for the publication of the White Paper. My underlying proposal is that the Bill should be annexed to the White Paper.

We often hear that the devil is in the detail between the White Paper proposals and the legislation. The detail regarding the powers of the proposed authority and, crucially, the relationship between the mayor and the assembly and the controls on the powers of each, is fundamental to the decisions which Londoners will be asked to reach on 7th May.

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It is arrogant for the Government to say that their proposals will go through unchanged. However, I am enough of a realist to recognise that with their Whip in the House of Commons that is probably factually accurate. I believe that the voters need to know precisely the detail of the Government's proposals. We have been told that a summary of the White Paper will go to every household in London, but I do not believe that a summary can deal adequately with detail such as the mechanisms for controlling the mayor or throwing him out should he get too big for his boots.

The amendment would not delay the referendum, but it would lead to a more useful and appropriate referendum so that the people of London know on what their views are being sought. I beg to move.

Lord Bowness: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 5. I give the Committee notice that, depending on what is said during the debate and by the Minister in reply to Amendment No. 1, I may press Amendment No. 2 when it is called.

Sadly, if the Bill is passed unamended, we shall be seeking the approval of the people of Greater London for a government proposal which at the time we are discussing it has little form or substance. They will be invited to vote for an idea, not a proposal. The point has been made in debates on other Bills that it is a highly unsatisfactory way of proceeding to seek the views of the people in a referendum without their having the details before them so that they can see what is proposed. Indeed, the Opposition Benches require answers to the questions which were posed by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition and my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish about the conduct of referenda. We shall return to that issue and shall press the Government for answers.

The Green Paper on this issue, with its 60 or more questions, gives an indication of how complex the governance of London may be. I submit that people are entitled to see the detail before being asked to commit themselves. Indeed, by seeking a positive vote in a referendum in these circumstances, the Government are asking for carte blanche to do precisely what they like when enacting the legislation.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we are promised a White Paper in March after consultation on the Green Paper. But even that is not satisfactory. It assumes--and it is a big assumption which ought not to be made--that Parliament will enact the legislation to implement the White Paper without amendment. It assumes that the Government will not at some stage change their mind over some significant matter. However, the amendment standing in my name does not ask for the legislation to be in place but merely to be published, mindful as we are of the Government's stated desire to make progress with the proposal. If the draft legislation is to be ready in time for the referendum the Government have nothing to fear from such amendments and can accept them.

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It is extremely relevant to the people of London when deciding how to vote that they have before them details and not questions or merely the results of consultation. Some of those matters are critical: for instance, the method of election of members of the assembly or of the mayor; the functions of the mayor and the assembly; its financing; whether it is to be tax raising; the powers which will come from central government to the mayor and the assembly; and what will go from the boroughs to the assembly. Planning is vitally important. All those issues can colour the attitude of people towards the proposals. Given the unfortunate mix of powers which existed between the old Greater London Council and the boroughs, people will wish to pay considerable attention to those issues.

If the amendments are accepted there will be some safeguard of a reasonable period before the vote when people will have the details before them and can give them due consideration.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: Although the Conservative Party is proud of the fact that after 18 successful years London is now regarded as probably the greatest capital city in the world, it accepts that nothing stands still. Therefore, this is an appropriate time to consider how we can modernise and reform our city for the challenges of the 21st century. However, asking Londoners to consider the changes before they have the details of them is the wrong way around.

We know that there will be a White Paper in the spring, but we do not know what will be in it. Indeed, the Government admit that they have not yet decided on the details. As was said in the other place and by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, when speaking to Amendment No. 1--I am speaking to Amendment No. 2--the devil is in the detail. At the very least, we must ensure that Londoners have sufficient time to consider the details before the referendum on 7th May.

This very simple amendment seeks to do just that. It will ensure not only that those details can be examined closely, but also that the Government meet the deadline for the production of the Bill. I can see no reason for a government committed to openness and transparency to refuse the amendment.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Hayman: I shall start these proceedings on a conciliatory note. We share the concern expressed by both Front Benches in proposing these amendments that we should ensure that those who have a right to vote in the referendum are well informed about the proposals for new London government.

We have already demonstrated our commitment to facilitating a proper debate. We printed 1 million summaries of the Green Paper to ensure that all Londoners who were interested were aware of the issues. These were distributed throughout London--through an insert in the Evening Standard, through post offices, libraries, local authorities, via many London organisations and, on demand, by post.

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Ahead of the referendum we shall ensure that every household gets a neutral and factual summary of the White Paper, setting out the proposals on which they will be asked to vote, as well as other initiatives to ensure that everybody knows what the issues are.

The questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, will be answered in clear terms in the White Paper. The White Paper will be published during or before the week commencing 23rd March, well ahead of the referendum. That will allow six weeks of full debate on our proposals--sufficient time for all the issues to be explored. That is the proper order to follow. It follows the clear precedent established in Scotland and in Wales for a pre-legislative referendum. It has always been clear that that was what was being proposed in relation to the referendum on London government.

I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that I find it rather curious that the Liberal Democrats should have tabled these amendments because in Committee in another place the Liberal Democrat spokesman, Mr. Simon Hughes, argued in terms that that would not be an appropriate way forward. He said that it would not be right and that they were not arguing that it is possible to produce a Bill before the referendum. He accepted that it would slow down the proposals and that he did not believe that to be an appropriate sequence of events. Anyone can change their mind and I understand that the noble Baroness's party has done so. But we do not believe that that is a sensible way forward.

Publishing a Bill which would be a highly complex piece of legislation, drafted in a highly technical style, would not be more comprehensible for ordinary Londoners going to the polls to vote on a referendum than a clear and comprehensive White Paper. We shall publish detailed proposals in the White Paper and Londoners will have the opportunity to consider them in the language not of those of us who are legislators but of those who are voters before they come to vote.

If Londoners vote yes, it will then be for Parliament to scrutinise the legislation, taking account of the content of the White Paper and the verdict of the people of London. The requirement to publish a Bill before the referendum would mean unnecessary complication and delay. It would do little or nothing to assist Londoners in assessing the substance of the proposals. People have waited far too long happily to tolerate further delay.

The dangers, if such are dangers, of the proposals that the Government put forward being changed apply in the same way to a Bill as they do to a White Paper. Parliament is supreme and has the opportunity and duty to scrutinise legislation and to change it. Publishing a Bill does not mean that the proposals in it are set in stone before they have become statute. It would do nothing to aid informed debate, which is what we all want from the proposals which the Government put forward.

As the spokesman for the Liberal Democrats recognised in another place, these amendments would put at risk the proposed referendum date of 7th May and with it the benefits to be gained from combining the poll with local government elections. That could result in

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additional public expenditure of some £2 million to £3 million and risk reduced voter turnout. That could not be in the interests of democracy, the taxpayer or local authorities.

We have no interest in limiting debate on our proposals. We are sure that they will command the support of the majority of the people of London. But we do not believe that publishing a detailed, lengthy and complex technical document--namely, a Bill--would do anything to promote discussion among the voters of London. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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